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The termite queen: her behavior and the structure of a termite colony

Termites are often confused with big white ants, but as scientific researches have demonstrated they have no connection to these insects; they belong to the cockroach order Blattodea that originated in as early as the Triassic Period of the Mesozoic Era (200-250 million years BC).

It is believed that these interesting insects can demolish everything around them in a couple of seconds and this opinion is not far from the truth. Termite invasion often turns into a real natural disaster for people, their houses, furniture and even clothes. The reason to this is a tremendous number of termite’s colonies and their amazing breeding power, which the termite queen is famous for. The termite queen is the individual belonging to the “royal line” in the hierarchy.

queen termites pictures
A termite queen is in the nest of termite mounds.

This honorable place can be taken only by an adult individual devoid of wings, sometimes even sight, which has reached puberty and is characterized by a distinguishable reproductive function. This creature turns into a kind of reproductive plant, as it can lay several thousand eggs a day.

There are biologists who claim that in case of danger the queen with her progeny can teleport herself form the termitary to a safe place. Of course, this phenomenon cannot be proved scientifically.

An American researcher of the animal world Ivan T. Sanderson says  in his book “Paranormal ants Atta and teleporting Queen” that ants and termites have elaborated a system of teleportation of their most valuable individuals. If the humankind could gain this knowledge, which is known to tiny termites for centuries, we would be able to reach the farthest stars just in couple of years!

pdf Ivan T. Sanderson – Termite queen’s teleportation.

The size of the termite queen doesn’t allow her to move without an outer assistance

Due to this practically non-stop process, the body (abdomen) of the termite queen becomes truly huge, averaging 4″ (10 cm) in length, although there are individuals with even more impressive proportions (up to 5.5″).

It’s no surprise that in the result of such body changes, the termite queen loses her possibility to move on her own, so other termites from the worker class carry her into a separate room (termite nest), where she continues her activity under the protection of her guards — termite-soldiers. It is interesting to note that the termite queen’s abdomen is secreting unique clear slime, which attracts the subordinate termites to their “royal” master, because of a great amount of pheromones containing in this slime.

The termite queen is protected by soldiers
The termite queen is under protection of its colony.

This exceptional process was created by nature to unite the working class, for it to be organized and honor the queen and king with their progeny, which is constantly being brought into this world. However, sometimes there arise such incidents, when separate individuals get glued to the queen’s belly so strongly that its integrity becomes interrupted, although it brings no mortal danger to the female. The termite king himself stays in the nest, and he doesn’t leave this place all his life, continuing to impregnate the queen (unlike ants, termite females don’t die after pairing and they resort to it every day without and harm or risk for the health).

Swarming termites contribute to new colonies’ creation

However, we shouldn’t assume that the reproductive function is just the termite queen’s privilege, ordinary individuals (from the so-called working class) are capable of pairing and laying eggs that result in new colonies’ creation.

Besides, this happens accidentally: a male and female are coupling in the air, then they don’t return to the previous place of their living, but go down to the ground, bite off their wings and set a new colony and a new hierarchy, respectively, where they become the king and queen. Science also knows the cases when working termites form a separate sub-caste with immature individuals (second and third queens). Their main calling is to provide an alternative to the existing “government” — they will become the new “elite” as soon as the old couple has died.

Concerning the rest of termites in the colony (so-called subordinate ones), they are divided practically in equal proportions into workers and soldiers, and males and females, with small keeling to one side or the other. It should be mentioned that they are really hard-working, as the world of a termite colony builds itself almost exclusively on them. They don’t just construct dwellings (termitaries), bringing different materials proper for this use from everywhere, they also store up food for winter and even take care of the endlessly new appeared offspring of the queen. Termites strike our imagination by the fact that everything in their life is meticulously thought over, to the last detail.

The kingdom of termite mounds

The walls of termite mounds are constructed by termites with the help of big animals’ dry faeces, their own saliva and any possible materials around them (sawdust, sticks, branches, grass, etc.) It is remarkable that despite of the fragility and not high reliability of the used materials, these constructions, called termitaries, become in the end quite strong and stable not just against the wind, but also against unfriendly animals. Maybe, it is possible because there is very strong gluten in the saliva of these insects. Everything inside the colonies is very well designed, too.

termite mounds
Leopard on a Termite mound in Africa.

Therefore, there are many channels, tunnels and separate chambers inside each termitary. They provide the dwelling with high scale ventilation and arrange the required micro-climate in the mounds. There are not just eggs, larvae and the queen in the chambers, but also the stored food and “mushroom gardens” (mold fungi), which are consumed by the insects in their everyday diet.

Moreover, we can see a special room almost in every termitary, created by the hosts for Thermophilic microorganisms, i.e. different living organisms that can co-exist with termites in the closest contact (symbiosis).

What about the soldiers, their key role is in protection not just of the termite queen, continuously laying eggs, but of the whole colony as well. The main enemy of termites is various species of ants, whose regular attacks are being successfully fought back by the soldiers.

5 thoughts to “The termite queen: her behavior and the structure of a termite colony”

  1. Lillian Schaeffer says:

    Thanks for sharing this awesome post! I didn’t know much about termites and how they worked before, and it’s fascinating to see how they operate. I can’t believe the queen gets so large and looks so different from the rest of the colony! Do queens look like that for termites that live in houses too, or is that just when they live in mounds?

  2. The life and structure of termite colonies are very interesting indeed. I find them to be very interesting insects. Considering they are as old as dinosaurs, there is something to be said for their survival skills. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.

  3. Cindy R Levano says:

    Thanks for the info Damaris. Really helpful.

  4. Kyler Brown says:

    My wife and I went to Disney World recently, and one of the rides in Animal Kingdom displayed these amazingly tall termite mounds. I was so curious to learn more, so I really appreciated this post. I found it fascinating that a possible reason for these mounds being so strong can be found in the termites saliva. Thanks for sharing this post!

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